Game 1 of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational was a grind between the Syracuse Orange and Tennessee Volunteers. Despite sticking with the #7 team in the country for over 30 minutes, SU fell too far behind late, dropping the opening contest of the tournament 73-56.
There are some positives from today’s performance, as well as areas Syracuse needs to improve on throughout the season. I’ll start with the good stuff:
Fighting for the Orange (Standard)
I’ll give Red a lot of credit for getting his team motivated. Most people (myself included) pictured a blowout on this Monday afternoon... or morning, in SU’s case... but we were pleasantly surprised when the Orange not only kept pace with Tennessee, but actually had the LEAD for about 12 minutes of game time.
Benny Williams was back to himself with a nice two-way game, and Chris Bell seems to have found his shot, leading the team with 16 points. Justin Taylor was blanked in scoring but held his own on the back end with seven defensive boards.
The foul trouble prevented ‘Cuse from pressing to their best ability, but the loss isn’t the real big-picture story. Between hanging with one of the country’s best teams here, and rallying from down 24 against Colgate last week, this group has earned some confidence back.
OK, now time for the bad...
TAKE THE POINTS!
The infuriating part of today’s game was how close the Orange kept things in spite of their own simple mistakes. I think Judah Mintz and others do a great job baiting contact on their drives to the rim, setting up easy points at the line.
The issue today was the Orange didn’t take them.
8/17 on what should be your “free” points is just not acceptable and a lot of that blame is on Mintz himself, who missed four of ten. He was just ice cold in the first half overall, missing his first eight shots from the field before finally converting on a lob in the paint.
Judah and J.J. Starling went just a combined 8/27 from the field. You can’t have that lack of production from your back court and expect to win.
Not Crashing the Glass
I’ll preface this by saying the Vols were one of the best defensive teams in the country last season, so I think this will get cleaned up. I still have to mention it though: second-chance points are what lost SU this game.
You can survive a few misses at the line since they’re only one point each, but letting rebounds go to the other team will destroy whatever momentum you’re building.
That’s what happened to Syracuse, who Tennessee outrebounded 48-33 overall and 13-6 on offense. That disparity on offense is even worse when you consider that blocked shots out of bounds count as rebounds - SU really only had three instances of a player grabbing a ball off the glass today.